Stan Frazier can't cook in silence.
Depending on his mood, tunes ranging from David Bowie to Slayer and Madonna to Bill Evans can be heard pouring out of his two-story home in Newport Beach.
"I need to have music playing when I'm involved in the craft of cooking because it puts me in such a good mindspace," said Frazier, one of the investors in A Restaurant & Market in Newport. "To me, they go so hand-in-hand that the music player needs to be switched on before I even tie my apron. It's a key element of my process."
Music and food are the two dominant forces that constitute Frazier's personal ethos. Wildly popular for his 25-year stint as rock band Sugar Ray's drummer and principal songwriter, Frazier has now swapped his drumsticks for Japanese knives — his most essential kitchen tools.
Recently, at his wife's urging, the 44-year-old starred on Jamie Oliver's "Chef Race: UK vs. US" and walked away the winner and $100,000 richer. Broadcast on BBC America over 11 weeks, the reality TV show comprises 16 contestants — eight from each country — who face off in a culinary journey that takes them across the United States.
Frazier, who is involved in structuring the menu and choosing ingredients at A Restaurant & Market but doesn't actually work there as a chef, decided to tough out the TV competition, despite his lack of professional cooking experience.
"The show's audition required that we each bring a dish that represented who we are, and I chose bruschetta — which is a vehicle for flavor and can be served with literally anything in the world," he said. "Since I was afraid that the food would get soggy if prepared beforehand, I took my portable burner and toolbox and began cooking behind my car. The camera crew was right when they called it 'over the top,' but it came straight from the heart. That's what cooking is for me."
Armed with only three spices — Maldon Sea Salt, Herbs en Duxells and Sumac, a 10-inch chef's knife, a paring knife and a sleeping bag, Frazier backpacked and hitched rides from the West Coast to the East Coast in the midst of a sweltering heat wave, relying solely on his culinary ability, business sense and survival skills. A cameraman and other members of the American team accompanied him every step of the way.
"The challenges were extremely hard and involved a ton of walking, running and pleading for rides," said Frazier, recalling an overwhelming sense of desperation. "We either didn't sleep at all, crashed in unknown people's backyards, or laid our heads wherever there was space, even if that was a single hotel room with one bed for eight people. We even made sushi in the bathroom in Las Vegas' Rio hotel!"
While getting acclimated to the presence of a camera over his shoulder and the company of fellow chefs steeped in competitiveness, negativity and screaming matches, Frazier, nicknamed the "dark horse" by fellow finalist Cody Utzman, kept his "head down" and focused on cooking to "survive the madness."
"I let my work and work ethic prove what I was trying to accomplish," he said. "And on our days off, I'd just catch up on my sleep."
Being pitted against chefs as young as 19 took its toll on Frazier, as did the intense heat and humidity. While four contestants were hospitalized due to heat exposure, Frazier, pushed to the limits of exhaustion, began to shed weight and question his decision to be hundreds of miles away from his family.
After steadily making it through the elimination rounds, however, Frazier felt his self-confidence rise several notches and he decided, "If I'm going to be a monkey, I may as well be a gorilla."
In the weeks ahead, he egged himself on by penning "Never give up" and "Destroy what destroys you" in clear view on his arm — a constant reminder of his keen desire to win.
"A lot of the contestants had spent their time in restaurants, but I'd been on the road for a long time [with Sugar Ray] and seen how difficult that life was," he said. "I also wasn't shy to pick up the phone and call someone to ask if we could use their kitchen. That worked to my advantage."
This whirlwind culinary saga drew to a close in New York City with Frazier positioned behind the stove at a pop-up restaurant called Squash Blossom, a nickname given to him by his mother and then passed down to his daughter, Annabelle. With only $500 at his disposal, Frazier pieced together a three-course tasting menu with two choices per course, including chilled drunken avocado soup, New Zealand lamb chops and lemon honey custard.
"My biggest takeaway from this experience has been that anyone can do anything they put their mind to," Frazier said. "I know it sounds trite and a bit cliché, but when you see a guy switching careers at my age, it makes you want to ask, 'What are you thinking?' Winning 'Chef Race' has shown me that success is possible at any age and with any profession, so long as your heart is fully in it."
Looking ahead to next year, Frazier is making plans for a cookbook, a cooking show that juxtaposes music and food, instructional rock 'n' roll cooking classes and potentially a boutique-style restaurant.
"Cooking has always been a shared activity in my family, a tradition that I want to give to my daughter," he said. "I want her to be able to say, 'This is my dad's recipe,' or 'He made this on the show,' or 'He taught me how to make a special spaghetti sauce.' Because that's how my father taught me."
A Restaurant & Market
Address: 3400 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach
Specialty: Upscale American cuisine
Restaurant hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Market hours: 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday